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Archive for February 6th, 2010

Clerics call to bring god back into government!

A senior Church of England bishop has condemned the Labour Government for forcing God out of politics.

Times: The Bishop of Durham, Dr Tom Wright, the fourth-most-senior in the church hierarchy, warned that the British public had been left to “lurch in a sea of amoralism”. The Prime Minister had become akin to an “absolute monarch” with little or no accountability, he added.

While I tend to favour reading the tabloids first on a Saturday (I do like to keep up with the tabloids and their pre-occupations) I woke this morning, after an amusing night, at 6.00 am to read an article in The Times about Labour erasing god from politics and thought that this was probably the best news about Labour I had heard in months.

The Times reported: “In an interview with The Times, Dr Wright, a leading evangelical, echoed the remarks of the Prince of Wales this week and criticised the “myth” of the Enlightenment.”

I tend to agree with the commenters on  the Times story that (a) there is about as much point in arguing about religion with someone who has firm religious beliefs as arguing with a drunk and (b) It is a bizarre experience arguing rationally  about religion with someone whose most firm belief is unfounded or ‘unproven’.

Years ago, I spent a surreal evening with a cousin of mine who went to Canada at the age of 13 after his father died.  I met him again some 25+ years later when he returned to Britain for a visit.  He had found a god somewhere in the Canadian countryside (Vancouver area) and told me quite firmly that the earth was only 4500 years old.  He countered my introduction of geological and biological scientific research which  indicated that the earth was very much older by telling me, with equal solemnity, that God put the dinosaur skeletons in the ground 4500 years before. He offered no answer as to why God would do such a thing. He just beamed at me in what I presume he took to be a saintly manner.  My then wife, a lovely, patient and kind woman, rolled her eyes as I reached for the wine and became even more skeptical.

It was impossible to shake him from his beliefs. I then found myself in the position of Basil Fawlty telling everyone at the hotel ‘not to mention the war’ when a group of Germans were staying there  and I developed a specialised form of ‘religious tourettes’. Pretty well every third sentence involved ‘For Christ’s sake’…. ‘Jesus!’… ‘Christ on a bicycle’ or some variant on the phrase when my cousin ‘revealed’ some more truths from his biblical researches.

I met my cousin (who was kind enough to send me some polemic about ‘the burning bush’ when he returned to Canada after this first meeting) – ten years later. He seemed to have been cured, had given up religion and was drinking in the finest traditions of our mutual ancestors.  This time his behaviour was more surreal.  He asked me if I would like a stuffed brown bear.  I was, I admit, pissed and said ‘Why not?  I had a leopard skin rug in my office which some fool had shot in 1921 (I brought it from an antiques auction when over refreshed one Saturday afternoon).  I thought no more of the offer of a brown bear until, six weeks later, DHL arrived with a very large box.  Inside was a a HUGE brown bearskin, compete with head.  My cousin had reported the bear to the Police.  Apparently the bear was being over enthusiastic about coming onto his ranch where he ran outward bound courses for kids. The Police shot the bear.  My cousin had stuffed it.  His wife was not enthusiastic about having a dead bear lying around.Hence… the bear was sent to me.

So I now had a dead leopard and a HUGE brown bear on the floor of my office. Six weeks after the arrival of the bear,  I had the bizarre and mildly eccentric experience of helping the former Director of Kew Gardens who ran a fascinating botanical magazine.  He wanted a website.  I said that I would be happy to assist as my then multi-media production team were very experienced website developers.  He talked to me earnestly about how important conservation was, mentioned CITES, and said that people needed to learn  how to co-exist with animals and plants.  I looked at the dead leopard and the HUGE brown bear but feet away – and even I had the grace to feel slightly ‘guilty’.

***

I always enjoy (and appreciate) when readers take the time to comment on posts.  I have set down an interesting comment from Marty – and my reply. It is a Saturday, of course – and I have spent a most amusing afternoon near Chelsea walking ‘on’ The Thames outside Lambeth Palace to wind up the inhabitants thereof.

Marty

Comparing Bishop Tom Wright to some religious fellow who has crazy ideas about the earth being 4500 years old really isn’t that helpful in discussing these things. Every group has their lunatic fringe, and to judge a group by it is neither fair nor useful. We don’t want to judge all Atheists by the mass killings of Stalin or Mao do we?

Moreover, to say that Tom Wright builds his worldview on the unproven assumption of God is to show that you may well need freeing from your own Enlightenment straitjacket. I recommend you read Tim Keller’s “The Reason for God” as well as Bishop Wright’s own “Simply Christian” to see what thinking Christians are on about.

And ObiterJ is right, Bishop Tom does have two good points.

Charon response:

Marty

Thank you for your observations.

I do not recall making a comparison between my cousin and the Bishop. I merely reported on two separate episodes. You chose to make the conjunctive construction.

If you were a regular reader of my blog – you would have been aware that while I am an atheist, I am more than content for people to believe in whatever they wish to believe in, dress as they choose and do as they please subject to the laws of our nations – by which I mean the man made laws, not those of some deity who passes his wish through some power crazed nutter in a pointed hat who wants to rule over people. History reveals many illustrations of nutters in pointed hats doing just that.

Your suggestion that I ‘need’ freeing from ‘(my) own enlightenment straightjacket’ is, of course, a perfect example of why I have absolutely no interest in religion – for the ingrained habits of many who follow religion is that they cannot tolerate that others do not agree with them and therefore ‘prescribe’ some remedy for ‘our’ ills. Reading suggestions are always welcome in a civilised society – attaching them to some remedy to prescribe a cure for my failings, is not so! You will recall that I do not advise people to become atheists. I merely comment on such matters.

I am sure that your recommendations  were well intentioned, so please do not take this is as a personal criticism. If you wish to amend the indictment to include further counts of heresy and apostasy on my part – please feel free. I shall, as the MPs said yesterday when the DPP told them about their charges… defend my position vigorously’. :-)

Obiter J is perfectly right as to Count 1 of my burning at the stake indictment… we have lost an element of our human dignity and ethical behaviour. I prefer the state not to interfere, save (taking an old fashioned Benthamite stance) where the acts of people cause more harm to others than pleasure to themselves. This used to be called a ‘felicific calculus’. I suspect this is where Tony Blair got the word calculus from for his recent performance of ‘King Lear / Othello / Caligula / MacBeth’ at the Iraq Inquiry.

As to count 2 – ‘absolute monarch’: I could not agree more. We need to ensure that our system of government returns to Cabinet Government – the halcyon days (if they ever existed) where the prime minister is primus inter pares. It would be helpful, given that we are paying for them, to give the MPs more power and, certainly, I would welcome a change in the law to ensure that this country cannot go to to war on the decision or whim of one person – the prime minister. Parliament should decide such a matter. (If there was a danger of a 45 second or minute weapons / missile strike – we could have a provision allowing the prime minister to make a quick decision?)

Fortunately, I have studied a fair bit of history. I am, therefore, aware of the many shortcomings of the Church in History. I have read of the naivety of Catholic and Muslim in the holy wars, the brutality of ‘religious men and women’ over the years, the caring way priests buggered young children in their care, the power, greed, corruption and control over peoples by Popes, Bishops et al in the name of ‘God’. It continues to this day, mainly, it has to be said through the power of the Pope – contraception, AIDS in Africa being but two examples of papal bull and as for this arrant nonsense on homosexuality – what a marvellous example of how to behave in a free and tolerant society. Church pronouncements in some areas are a disgrace and remain rooted in the bigotry and superstition of the past . In the Islamic world today it would be not unfair to suggest that the interpretation of Sharia laws can be most convenient to the rulers of some states as a means of controlling large numbers of relatively poor people.

Atheists do not suggest that brutality in man is born of a belief in god. Golding in his book Lord of The Flies reveals many failings in the condition of man and the propensity to fetishise, totemise and ritualise.

So – to sum up: I am delighted for those who choose to believe in whatever they believe in to continue to do so. I have no interest, personally, in believing in god and I certainly do not think that the men and women of god can claim any exclusivity over the principles of decent behaviour.

As they say on Dragon’s Den… I am not going to invest in you, God. I’m OUT.

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